Separation anxiety is a natural stage, which begins with the development of the child’s mobility, around the age of 6 months, and intensifies between 12 and 18 months. The time of entering nursery or kindergarten is one of the moments when the separation protest strongly manifests. Most of the time, the child will hesitate and will try to postpone the moment of separation from his parents. A series of recommendations can help us, as parents, to properly address this situation.
What is anxiety in children?
Separation anxiety in children is a natural and common fear that manifests when the child realizes that he or she will be separated from the key person in his or her life, be it a mother, father or other loved one. The behaviour that they manifest differs depending on the child’s personality and how strong his attachment is, but will eventually fade as the child grows.
How to recognize an anxious child?
“The child can give us different clues. The most obvious ones are those transmitted non-verbally, through the body posture. Of course, there are also children who manifest themselves by clinging to their parents’ clothes, crying or screaming. But not everyone is as vocal. There are also children who will express their insecurity through trembling or very frequent vocal pauses. ”- Raluca, Acorns Nursery Head Teacher
How can we help children struggling with separation anxiety?
Although separation anxiety must be understood as a normal process, part of the child’s development, and not as a cause for concern, there are ways to make the separation process easier.
“Parents need to have realistic expectations. It is normal for the child to cry, suffering and sadness are natural emotions when the child realizes that he will not spend as much time with his parents. ” – Raluca, Acorns Nursery Head Teacher
Give the child time to adjust
Before leaving the child in a space he doesn’t know, for example in a nursery or kindergarten, allow him time to get used to the new landscape. The transition should be a gradual, natural process. As a parent, what you can do is spend time with him in this new environment before separation. In the beginning, remain with your child throughout his stay. Gradually, begin to leave the room for short periods of time. Thus, the child will feel less stress about staying in a familiar space, which he considers safe.
A familiar object helps
Allow the child to take an object he holds dear, such as a blanket or a toy. These items will help the child feel protected.
Avoiding separation can make the adjustment process more difficult. Encourage this moment by offering the child pleasant experiences. Adopt a positive, confident attitude on the way to the nursery or kindergarten and at the time of separation. Smile to the educators and interact with them so that the child sees that you trust the people that will care for him. This will also give him confidence.
Also, talk with the child’s teacher about how to approach this process in order to provide consistent support.
Announce the moment of separation
Tell the child when you will be leaving and when you will return. For example, “We go to kindergarten now, where mommy will no longer stay with you, but I’ll be back to pick you up at 6:00 pm.” Make a routine of this and let the child know what to expect. Assure him that separation is only temporary. This exercise is useful even for babies. A sudden, unannounced departure makes things worse because the child will be confused, upset that you are not around, and the following separations will be even more difficult.
Something else you can do, before leaving, is to stay with the child until he starts to engage in a pleasant activity, which he enjoys. Then say goodbye briefly and directly, maintaining a relaxed attitude. Remember that your mood may also affect his mood. Depending on the signals you transmit, the child may think that he is not in a safe place. Be consistent in sending the message that everything will be fine.
Do not label nor criticize
When the child enters a new environment, where he is surrounded by several children, avoid telling him not to be shy or to stop acting like a baby because this will make him feel uncomfortable and he will not want to interact. What is helpful for the child is for his parents to be a model of social behaviour. You don’t have to tell him what to do, but to show him how to handle different situations. For example, when the child feels anxious in new places, you have to explore those places with him, interact with people so he can do the same.
“What helps the child is to be a role model for him. Not to tell him what to do, but to show him how to do things. If he is anxious about new places, then we should be a role model and accompany him in exploring new places, meeting new people. Most of the time, parents avoid meeting new people but expect for their child to do so. ” – Raluca, Acorns Nursery Head Teacher
Read together or create stories that touch about the fear of separation
The child should know that the feelings he feels are normal, that everything is fine and that there are other children in the same situation. Create stories that illustrate the fear of being away from parents. For example, “Once upon a time, there was a rabbit who didn’t want to stay away from his mother. He was afraid of leaving the burrow, but he had no cause for concern … “